Archive for the ‘People’ Category

Former OU man loses seat

Friday, May 4th, 2012
In the May 2012 local council elections in Milton Keynes, the town where much of the OU is based, the Tories lost a seat and Labour gained seven to become the second largest party. The Lib Dems lost a couple of seats. One of the defeated candidates was Sam Crooks, the Lib Dem leader on MK council. He lost his Middleton seat by four votes. He now runs an educational software company but he used to work at the OU.

Critical friend returns

Monday, March 19th, 2012

David Harris author of Openness and closure in distance education, Falmer Sussex, 1987 returned to the OU this week to deliver some papers relating to his work as a Research Assistant in Curriculum Design at The Open University between 1970 and 1973. Despite his critique of the OU he said that he was a big fan and had maintained an interest in adult educaiton throughout his subsequent career. He was one of the contributors to OU teaching material which was said to have a Marxist bias (see David Harris, ‘Openness and Control in Higher Education: towards a critique of the Open University’ (with J Holmes) in Dale R. et al. (eds) Schooling and Capitalism, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. 1978). He has also written on  ‘On Marxist Bias’ aboth the OU in the Journal of Further and Higher Education, 2, 2, 1978, pp. 68 – 71.

Open to Small People

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

The Open University has long sought to recruit younger students. Since her arrival on 6th March Caitlin Lucy, daughter of the former Senior Project Manager of the History of the Open University Project, Rachel Garnham, has been busy boosting numbers and disrupting education. Congratulations to Rachel and Andy and welcome Caitlin!

Ode to Joy

Thursday, February 9th, 2012
Is this part of the secret history of the OU? Did Garry B Trudeau’s character Duke (based on Hunter S Thompson) invent the idea of teaching via the tele? Well, the cartoon dates from the wrong millennium so it is unlikely. However, it does foreground that technologies have often been seen as the cheap and efficient way to deliver education as if it was another commodity which could be pumped out down the cathode tubes.  For a more sophisticated understanding of the history of the OU try the website.
And here is a genuine bit of history which ought to be less secret: the website owes much to the work of Rachel Garnham the Senior Project Manager who is leaving the project today in order to have a baby. Project minding a baby should be easy after making sure that things here run to time and budget.
Another secret (possibly) is that she will select a name for the forthcoming youth based on your votes. Top of the polls at the moment? Walter Perry II. 
Bye bye, au revoir really, Rachel, many thanks for all the work and we look forward to meeting Walter Junior.

Hats off to Drake

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

On 10th October, 2011 Michael Drake, the OU’s first Dean of Social Sciences, gave a talk in the Milton Keynes Village Hall to the Two Villages Archive Trust about on ‘The OU and me’. He employed the metaphor of industrialisation to describe the impact of the OU. This echoed a phrase that he had employed in 1972 when Michael Drake argued that the Open University was ‘the industrial revolution of higher education’ (M Drake, ‘The Open University concept’, Studies. An Irish Quarterly Review, Summer 1972, LXI no 242, p. 158).  (more…)

Two co-founders

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

The OU is one of over 800 universities with active iTunes U sites. Go here for beginner’s French for example and here for a podcast about air pollution.  This technology was developed by the company that was co-founded by Steve Jobs, Apple. He died on 5th October, aged 56. Many tributes have been paid.

On 29th September in her inaugural lecture as visiting professor at The Open University Law School Cherie Booth QC described how education transformed her own life. A co-founder of her own chambers who sits as a judge she has supported the OU’s Law School since its launch (which she attended in 1997) and she praised the OU’s commitment to extending the gifts and opportunities of learning. Echoing some of the founders of the OU she suggested that ‘What makes the OU particularly special is that it is not just distinctive in this country but it has pioneered new ways of teaching across the world without compromising quality’. In her lecture she argued that law is vital in the providing equality for women throughout the world and building a better society for all. You can watch her lecture here.

Deaths and the OU’s near death experience

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

It was 41 years ago that Iain Macleod the Chancellor of the Exchequer died. The death occurred at 11.35pm on 20 July 1970 while he was in 11 Downing Street and, according to Patricia Hollis p. 339, while the papers which would enable him to close the OU were on his desk. Macleod is credited with the view that the OU was ‘blithering nonsense’  (Daily Telegraph, 17 February, 1969). The first Dean of Arts at the OU, John Ferguson, said that Macleod’s view of the OU was that he was

rigorously and almost fanatically against it… had declared publicly that if the thing were set up, his party would abolish it… There is no doubt that Macleod’s sudden death, lamentable for national leadership in other ways, eased the University’s infancy (Ferguson, The Open University from within, pp. 13, 26).

Although Macleod’s last testament ‘acquired a special sanctity from the untimely death of its author’, Thatcher, motivated according to George Gardiner, by ‘her strong belief in giving educational opportunity to those prepared to work for it’, kept the OU. (more…)

Who attends university?

Monday, July 11th, 2011

At the opening of the OU in 1969 the new Chancellor spoke of it being open to everybody, regardless of qualifications. This disrupted the assumption that only those with suitable formal qualifications were suitable for higher education. It reflected the OU’s culture as emerging from part-time adult education, correspondence courses and Univerisity Extension in the nineteenth century, as well as in the post-war expansion of HE. It now appears that other universities operate a system of entry not simply based on formal assessment. However, these universities have not adopted the ethos of openness espoused by the OU.  Research by the Sutton Trust (a charity) suggests that five schools send more students to Oxbridge than 2,000 other schools. There was a report on this by the BBC.  In terms of its historical committment to being open the OU remains distinctive.

New College of the Humanities

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

A new private university college is to be launched, specialising in the arts and humanities and charging tuition fees of £18,000 a year. The privately funded New College of the Humanities will be based in Bloomsbury, London and plans to admit its first undergraduates in October 2012, offering degrees validated by the University of London. The intention is that the staff will teach exactly the same syllabi as the University of London but the college will not be part of that University. 

The University of London issued a clarification about the links with NCH.

“To avoid any confusion, it should be made clear that NCH is not, and will not be, a part of the University of London.”

There is no agreement for NCH students to have access to the University of London’s Senate House library – other than the same access available to other external students and Birkbeck, University of London, stated that ‘Birkbeck has no links with New College and no agreement to provide New College with access to any of its facilities’. Although exactly who owns  teaching materials is not entirely clear the development has caused some concern among staff at the University of London about this use of materials developed within the state system.


Acquire a solid base before leaping forwards

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

According to Cherwell, 177 dons have no confidence in the Universities Minister, David Willets,  Jonathan Black, the director of a careers service and Fellow of New College, Oxford sees this as a wider lack of confidence in the government.  Elsewhere there is a lack of confidence in changes which are being made to universities. Although she is against charging higher tuition fees Valérie Pécresse, the minister for higher education and research of France has still succeeded in provoking professors and students to take to the streets (in both 2007 and 2009) and demand her resignation. She has argued for 15 big universities across the country. This has echoes of an idea associated with former Open University VC John Daniel, who coined the word mega-university (see Daniel, John S (1996) Mega-universities and Knowledge Media: Technology Strategies for Higher Education, Kogan Page, London). He, however, looked to the past, noting that Walter Perry ‘did more than anyone to build the foundations for today’s mega-universities. It is largely because of him that we can use the word ‘mega’ about these institutions’. Perhaps if Ministers better understood the evolution of the OU then academics would have more faith in their pronouncements about the best way forwards.